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Brits could be owed £480m due to Qualcomm 4G "overcharging"

29 million people may be entitled to compensation of up to £30 each if a legal claim from watchdog Which? is successful

Brits could be owed more than £480 million as a result of overpaying for their 4G smartphone, consumer rights group Which? has claimed.

The company is suing US chipmaker Qualcomm, claiming the firm breached UK competition law by abusing its dominance in the patent licensing and chipset markets.

For example, Which? states that Qualcomm refuses to license its patents to other competing chipset manufacturers, nor will it supply chipsets to smartphone manufacturers unless companies obtain a separate licence and pay substantial royalties.

What’s more, the complaint states that Qualcomm insists it is paid fees by smartphone manufacturers even when they don’t use its chipsets in their smartphones. 

This means, according to Which?, that the firm is able to inflate the fees it charges 4G smartphone manufacturers, which the consumer is forced to bear in the form of increased handset prices.

“We believe Qualcomm’s practices are anti-competitive and have so far taken around £480 million from UK consumers’ pockets – this needs to stop,” said Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which?.

“We are sending a clear warning that if companies like Qualcomm indulge in manipulative practices which harm consumers, Which? is prepared to take action. If Qualcomm has abused its market power it must be held to account.”

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Which? is seeking damages for all affected Apple and Samsung smartphones purchased since 1 October 2015.

It claims 29 million consumers could be owed a collective £482.5 million in damages, and estimates individuals could be entitled to up to £30 compensation each, depending on the type of smartphone they bought.

In a statement, Qualcomm said the case had “no basis”

"As the plaintiffs are well aware, their claims were effectively put to rest last summer by a unanimous panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States," a Qualcomm spokesperson said.

This isn't the first time Qualcomm has faced allegations related to anti-competitive behaviour. In 2018, for example, the European Commission fined the firm chipmaker €997 million (£858 million ) for violating competition laws in a series of deals it made with Apple.

Qualcomm faced a second €242m fine in 2019, after the EC found the company abused its dominant position in the 3G chipset market.

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